Correctional Education: Preparation for Reintegration

Preparation for increased responsibility and successful reintegration into community life begins inside correctional institutions. Education has been a part of American prison systems since 1798. The most common finding of 20 years of research is that inmates who participate in education programs are more likely to be employed and less likely to end up back in prison than nonparticipants.11

Ideally, academic educational services should be the focus of detained and incarcerated youth's institutional experience. State constitutions guarantee all children the right to a free public education. Although educational services are offered to many juveniles in confinement, this is not always the case. In addition, many State education departments have not approved the institutional education programs, the programs often are not designed to address each student's individual educational needs, and students often cannot receive academic credit toward earning diplomas upon their transfer or release.

There have been efforts to upgrade programs to improve the quality of schooling for young people in confinement and to create educational service links between school systems and correctional settings. In 1992, OJJDP funded a 3-year grant project with the National Office for Social Responsibility (NOSR) to assist juvenile corrections administrators in planning and implementing programs to improve educational services for detained and incarcerated juvenile offenders. NOSR conducted an extensive literature search and published a report on effective practices in juvenile corrections education and a training and technical assistance manual.12 NOSR also selected three State-operated juvenile correctional facilities to establish model learning environments for incarcerated youth. These sites were Adobe Mountain School in Arizona, Lookout Mountain Youth Center in Colorado, and Sauk Centre in Minnesota. Each site's vision encompassed the philosophy that learning is the most important component of the rehabilitative process and must be the centerpiece of each youth's institutional experience. The models sought to expand learning from the classroom into the entire fabric of the institution, to train and empower all institutional staff to teach, and to make learning enjoyable.

According to research by NOSR, effective educational programs within correctional facilities include not only basic academic skills, high school completion, and general educational development (GED) test preparation, but also special education, pre-employment training, and other programs aimed at enhancing students' social, cognitive, and life skills.13

Special education. Learning disabilities have been identified as an important risk factor that contributes to failure in school and to entry into the juvenile justice system. An estimated 50 to 80 percent of all confined juveniles are eligible for services designed to address learning disabilities.14 NOSR contends that correctional education must provide a full array of special education programs and services, including a trained staff, a curriculum that meets each student's needs, training for independent living and vocational skills, and linkage with pre- and postconfinement educational services.15

Preemployment training. While motivating juvenile offenders to return to mainstream education is a priority, correctional education must also focus on making the connection from education to the workplace. Not all juvenile offenders will pursue school completion. It is also important for detained or incarcerated youth to develop entry-level job skills and workplace competencies.

Life skills. Delinquents often lack social and communication skills, particularly those related to problem solving and moral reasoning. Juvenile correctional education should offer programs and curriculums that focus on the development of life skills and provide the opportunity for juveniles to practice and apply the skills they learn. These programs should incorporate skills such as goal setting, time and plan management, problem solving, and conflict resolution; should reflect real world needs, such as thinking creatively and working in teams to achieve common goals; and should help youth develop positive personal qualities, such as responsibility, dependability, and honesty.

Jackson-Hinds County Youth Detention School

The Jackson (MS) Public School District is committed to providing a quality interim educational program that will allow juveniles to achieve their potential while being detained in the Jackson-Hinds County Youth Detention Center. The Youth Court School is an extension of the Jackson Public School District alternative school. Students ages 10 to 17 served by this program include juvenile delinquents, law violators, runaways, and disruptive students.

Program components include assessment, basic academic and survival skills, vocational training, support services, and parent training. The school has intensive collaboration with Jackson State University, Alcorn State University, the Art Alliance of Jackson, and the New Hope Foundation, which all assist with implementation of the Youth Court School mission. The program also requires parents to attend an 8-week Systematic Training for Effective Parenting course.

Police officers bring juveniles to the Jackson-Hinds County Youth Detention Center, where they are booked and detained until they can see an intake counselor. The intake counselor determines whether the juveniles are detained or released. If juveniles remain longer than 3 days, they receive an educational assessment that includes intake, diagnostic evaluation, and the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE). Depending on TABE results, juveniles are placed in either a home school, general educational development (GED) test preparation, or special education track.

The program teaches basic skills such as reading, math, and English. Alcorn State University provides vocational training, and Jackson State University assists with support services such as social workers, counselors, and social work interns. After juveniles are released from detention, social work interns conduct extensive followup. If juveniles do not attend school after release, they are required to attend either GED classes at the Jackson Public Schools GED/ABE Center or a community program in the city of Jackson.

Many participants have received GED diplomas or have developed skills that enabled them to make the transition back into regular school. After receiving a GED diploma or graduating from high school, many participants have attended Hinds Community College.

For more information about the Youth Detention School, contact Dr. Ginger M. Smith, Director, Jackson-Hinds County Youth Detention School, 400 East Silas Brown Street, Jackson, MS 39225; 601-960-1700.

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From the Courthouse to the Schoolhouse: Making Successful Transitions Juvenile Justice Bulletin  February 2000